By Mohammed Mohammed
The Director General, National Information Technology Information Development (NITDA), Mallam Inuwa Kashifu, has said Nigeria and other African countries should make digital technology priority on the policy agenda to drive agriculture for its food security.
He added that the policy adoption will help meet the challenges of food and nutrition, insecurity, climate change, youth unemployment, and overall economic growth.
Inuwa, noted that it has been projected that the total worth of the African food industry will hit the $1 trillion mark by 2030.
The NITDA boss averred that as part of government’s commitment to reinforce the digital transformation of the agricultural sector to support food security through emplacement of right policies, innovation, financing, and investment, Africa’s agriculture could be transformed into a powerhouse not only to feed a growing population but to create decent employment for millions of young people.
The DG who was represented by the Director of Information Technology Infrastructural Solutions (ITIS), Dr. Abdullahi Usman Gambo, stated this during a public sector media webinar roundtable discussion, with the theme: Digital Transformation for Food Security in Africa.
“Agricultural transformation remains one of Africa’s most pressing priorities but has been difficult to achieve. By all statistics, Africa needs to triple its current levels of agricultural productivity to meet the continent’s food and nutrition security. But we have the resources and potential to feed the whole world not just Africa while boosting the continent’s economic growth.” He said.
The DG revealed that about 82 million hectares out of Nigeria’s total land area of 91 million hectares were found to be arable and that only about 42 percent of this cultivable area is farmed according to research.
He then advised that the untapped potential of the growing youth population which constitutes over 50 percent of the estimated 200 million population with about 200 million mobile subscribers, 150 million active internet subscription/users, and 42% broadband penetration could be a game-changer for the agriculture sector.
“In Nigeria, the importance of agriculture in boosting the economy, creating more jobs, reducing poverty, growing nutritious food to feed the population, exporting surplus, and safeguarding the country’s environment cannot be overstated. I am convinced that agriculture, agribusiness, and food sectors remain key pillars of Nigeria’s economy and will be essential to the country’s full recovery from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and future food security”, he added.
Inuwa, noted that technologies ranging from SMS, USSD, web, and mobile to the blockchain, robotics, geoinformation technologies, remote sensing technology, IoT, big data, analytics, AI, machine and deep learning among others, present a huge opportunity for Africa and in particular, Nigeria to change the narrative of low productivity, poor food quality, and food insecurity. There are a lot of use cases that present the potential of digital technologies, research, and innovations at addressing these challenges.
The DG avowed that NITDA in collaboration with relevant stakeholders had developed the Nigeria Digital Agriculture Strategy (NDAS) with a vision to make Nigeria one of the top three (3) most food-secure countries in Africa and the top 20 largest exporters of standard agricultural produce by 2030 through the use and application of digital technologies and innovations.
NDAS is at the heart of the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) and the Nigeria Economic Sustainability Plan (NESP) for agriculture transformation. NDEPS is the Federal Government’s Policy for accelerating digital transformation in every sector of the economy. NESP takes agriculture as a mainstay for economic recovery, diversification, and job creation after Covid-19 plunged the country into recession.
The plan proposed a mass agriculture programme to bring 20,000 to 100,000 hectares of new farmland under cultivation in every state. The aim is to create 5 million job opportunities, directly and indirectly spanning the entire agricultural value chain, from ‘farm to table’. The policy is creating an enabling environment for the rapid deployment of digital solutions in our agri-food businesses, the DG said.
Inuwa also revealed that to implement the policy and plan, further digitise the agriculture sector, address obvious challenges, exploit the opportunities, create massive jobs, and accelerate economic diversification and growth, the Agency has come up with National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA).
NAVSA is a technology and innovation-driven agricultural initiative aimed at addressing low agriculture productivity and other challenges. Agriculture financing and repayment difficulties are being addressed through the introduction of closed and open wallet systems on mobile payment platforms.
“NAVSA is designed to allow every ecosystem player to participate based on win-win business models to create far-reaching network effects and offer values that never existed before. The concept of an adopted village implies that a farmer will have to be adopted before having access to all the benefits the platform offers”, he explained.
He further noted that measures are in place to identify a farmer thereby solving problems peculiar to identity. “So far, we have adopted 765 farmers across 68 local government areas in 4 states and consequently, this has created 2,500 jobs. Our target is to have adopted farmers from all over the country”.
In her remarks, the country manager of Microsoft, Mrs. Ola Williams, said agriculture is now the main driver of employment in Nigeria as such it is important to explore ways to make farming in Nigeria to become more profitable and to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider farming as viable means of livelihood.
She stated that Microsoft is in partnership with the private sector and NITDA to ensure leverage on all the platforms provided by NITDA in digitizing the agricultural sector.